Like any industry, there are leaders and superstars that just seem to burn really friggin’ bright. Comedy is no different, and sometimes in comedy there are those that are so great that they’re beloved. Hell, there are even others we don’t realize how important they are until after they’re gone. So we fired up The Laugh Button Think-Tank-A-Tron-2000 to come up with a list of stand-up comedians that left us too soon and whose impact on comedy still rattles us today.
Arguably the most dearly missed stand up comics of the generation, Mitch Hedberg passed away way too soon. March 29, 2005 was a sad day in the otherwise hilarious world of comedy. He was found in a hotel room and died of a cocaine and heroin overdose at 37 years old. His comedy style was unmatched and his half hour long specials of one liners continue to make audiences laugh as they continue to replay his performances on satellite radio as well as Comedy Central.
Patrice struggled with weight issues for most of his life and it eventually caught up to him at 41 years of age and he fell victim to a stroke in October 2011. A few weeks later, O’Neal was gone from this world and he’s been missed every day since. O’Neal was larger than life and was the type of comedian that was just hilarious on stage and in person. His impact over other comedians is large as his entire crew of NY comedian friends have gone to great lengths to keep his legacy alive. O’Neal was a controversial performer and liked to riff heavily with the audience during his shows, and he was a master at it. O’Neal’s final TV performance was at the Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen where he just dismantled the dais rather than tell jokes, it was a watershed moment. We lost Patrice just as the general public was beginning to understand his full impact as a comedian with the release of his Comedy Central hour, Elephant In The Room and his posthumous stand-up album, Mr. P. Both being very strong additions to legacy that is Patrice O’Neal.
38 years old was way too young for Sam Kinison to leave us. The loud, intense style of Kinison will never be seen again. It was his unique yelling and ability to handle a crowd (from his minister background) are what helped make him so hilarious. Politically incorrect and carefree is just what we want in a comedian, especially one as intense as Kinison. Chris Rock once stated, “I miss my dad and I miss Sam Kinison.” We echo Rock’s statements. We also wish a 17 year old kid wasn’t driving drunk on April 10, 1992.
This was unexpected for a lot of people. The stand up/TV star was 50 when he passed away from complications of sarcoidosis in 2008. Mac was most known for collaborations with Cedric the Entertainer and DL Hughley from the Kings of Comedy tour. He was a killer stand-up comedian and proved it every time he took the stage, one of his most famous being his “I Ain’t Scared of You” set on Def Comedy Jam which helped launch his career. Mac also had his own TV show and starred in movies such as Friday, Mr. 3000 and the Oceans Eleven-Thirteen movies.
Giraldo was probably best known for his appearances on Comedy Central’s Roasts which is interesting because he was hardly a “roast comic.” A lawyer turned comedian, Giraldo was funnier than any person should’ve been. He didn’t just make people laugh, he crushed time and time again. He wasn’t scared to flex his comedic muscle and always seemed prepared no matter what situation (see his legendary debate with Denis Leary on Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn). His influences were out of the ordinary, stating he was often influenced by bad comedians rather than the popular ones because he felt like it was easier to do better than the bad comics. Giraldo had some demons and they caught up to him when he passed away on September 29, 2010 at the age of 44, just five days after falling into a coma as the result of an accidental overdose of prescription medication.
Hicks’ performances were based on politics, philosophy, and religion. That could be what made him so funny. No one can make an audience laugh while talking about philosophy. But Bill Hicks did! Despite his controversial performances and feuds with other comics like Denis Leary, Hicks’ legacy will always live on past the pancreatic cancer that took him from us at the early age of 32 in 1994. Hicks released his “last words” in his will that ended with, “I left in love, in laughter, and in truth and wherever truth, love and laughter abide, I am there in spirit.”
The comic in the 60s was in trouble with the law more than a few times. Drug use, soliciting, false impersonation, obscenity, etc. all plagued the young comedian in the mid-century as he served as an early lightning rod for controversy and the free speech debate. His comedy style was later echoed by the likes of Bill Hicks, both of whom tackled controversial topics and problems in society head on. Bruce died of an accidental overdose on August 3, 1966. He was just 40 years old.
Mike used a lot of brutally honest comedy in his sets and was similar in the care-free style of Sam Kinison. DeStefano often interacted with his crowds with his personal stories. His life and career was on an upswing after recovering from heroin addiction which also led to the him contracting AIDS. DeStefano had a revitalization through his raw and honest storytelling from his experiences. Unfortunately his body gave up on and we lost Mike from a heart attack at the age of 44 in March 2011. Comedians and friends have not forgotten DeStefano and in the years since losing him, he’s been lovingly paid tribute in the logo by the owners of The Stand Comedy Club in his hometown of NYC.
Schimmel has called Lenny Bruce his biggest inspiration in comedy. And it shows through his raunchy performance style. We know Schimmel may have been a little old for this list at 60, but the crazy thing is that Schimmel seemed to cheat death for so many years and using it as source material for his comedy. He survived a heart attack, non-Hodgkins lymphoma, and liver cirrhosis from Hepatitis C. There were many ailments working against Schimmel during his life but it was ultimately injuries sustained as the passenger in a 2010 car accident that took this great comedian from us.
Best known for his supporting role in The Mask, Jeni was ranked #57 on Comedy Central’s 100 Greatest Stand-ups of All Time. His comedy style is different than most comics on our list. He was much less explicit in his stand-ups but was still able to generate a strong response every time he took the stage. Jeni died in 2007 at the age of 49 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound after he discussed plans for the day with his girlfriend.